In Indian culture, the concept of indebtedness or obligation plays a strong role. As humans, we are being obliged by God, children have an obligation towards their parents, students are indebted to their teachers.
In Guru-shishya parampara*, it is a student’s right to learn and the teacher’s right to teach, but the student is always being obliged by the teacher. In the true form of guru-shishya parampara, there is complete surrender on the part of the student, this allows for the teacher to do their best work. A good analogy is that of a diamond. A student is like a raw diamond, completely in the hands of its maker (the teacher). If the diamond yields completely, then the cutter can do his best job in bringing out the true beauty of the gem through his careful cutting and polishing. In the guru-shishya parampara, everything is left in the hands of the able guru. He is the creator. This creates an enormous obligation on the student – how is the student to repay the teacher? Each student does what they can. Some give money, others do seva, etc, but in Indian culture, this is not enough to relieve oneself of the obligation towards one’s teacher.
That is where the concept of runa mukti comes in. Runa Mukti literally means liberation/ release from obligation (or runa). There are two ways of Runa Mukti. The first, if your guru feels you are capable, is to teach 1000 students what your guru has taught you. The second is to go one step further than your guru in that vidya.
*When I speak of guru-shishya parampara and runa mukti, I am referring to serious students who have spent many years of very close contact and training with their guru